MKTE 2014 sets new attendance records


(Posted 11th October 2014)

Participants from East Africa in the just ended Magical Kenya Travel Expo, namely delegations from Uganda, Rwanda and representatives from South Sudan, were invited by the East African Tourism Platform, the regional tourism trade apex body, to a meeting at the Sarova Stanley Hotel on Friday morning to get a firsthand update on the state of affairs of the regional cooperation, often dubbed ‘The Coalition of the Willing’.

It was host country Kenya and in particular the CEO of the Kenya Tourism Board Muriithi Ndegwa who kicked off the proceedings when he said:

Start quote:

Good morning;

Let me take this opportunity to welcome you all to this forum and particularly for accepting our invite to join us at the 4th edition of the Magical Kenya Travel Expo.

As KTB, we are honoured by your presence here, a true gesture of your support and commitment to indeed market the regions as a one stop shop for tourists to Africa. Together, we have had a week of showcasing the variety of tourism products that give our region an outstanding position in Africa.

In the last Joint Tourism Marketing Committee meeting, held in Kampala, it was agreed the first stakeholders’ forum would be held in Nairobi. This is now actualized today and indeed we look forward to fruitful deliberations. As KTB, we are keen to play our role as equal partners in order to propel the gains from tourism, which many world economies are relying on to not only grow their economies but to uplift the livelihoods of many individuals and communities.

This forum is aimed at creating a better understanding on how the region can benefit from increased travel of local and international visitors across the countries. Of the 56 Million tourists reported by UNWTO into Africa as at the end of 2013, we together need to strategize how we can increase our share into the regions.

The signing of the tripartite agreement between Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda was a major milestone for tourism in East Africa. As a region we are looking to benefit from an increase in tourist arrivals as we put together resources and package the East African tourism product.

We have an extensive agenda to go through this morning towards strengthening the East African tourism product. Other than bringing together the tourism stakeholder in the region it is an opportunity to highlight the opportunity presented by regional integration for each represented country and for the region as a whole.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As a region we need to be clear which our market is and what products we are selling. One key market is domestic, growing inter and intra-regional tourism. Three of the East African Community Member States have eased movement for regional citizens to move with ease across the countries. This is key in growing cross border tourism, a key market for Kenya and we believe for all the member states represented here.

Africa at large is a big opportunity for us to grow the number of tourists visiting the region. As we position ourselves to receive over 50 million annual visitors as a region we need to reach out to our neighbouring countries to grow our market share.

The Joint East Africa Visa has made is easier for international tourists to cross from Kenya to Uganda and Rwanda. This is key in marketing the region as one, the ease of travel, multiple times.

This morning we have representation from regional tourist boards, government officials, airlines, tour operators and other investors in the region. With all of us here I’m optimistic by the end of this breakfast forum we shall have a clearer picture on how to better package East Africa as one destination and grow the regions visitors share.

Let me thank you, again, for joining us this week and being part of the success of the fourth Magical Kenya Travel Expo.

End quote

The sentiments expressed were echoed by Uganda’s Steven Asiimwe, CEO of the Uganda Tourism Board before two leading private sector stakeholder representatives took to the floor. Chris Diaz, Director of Marketing for Kenya Airways and Rosemary Mugambi, Director of Sales and Marketing for Serena Hotels, both acknowledged the opportunities an ‘open East Africa’ was presenting for the private sector and that increased cooperation and joint platforms were the way forward, not further fragmentation and ‘going it alone’.

(Seen on the panel are, from left to right, Ms. Rosemary Mugambi, Director of Sales & Marketing, Serena Hotels, Mr. Chris Diaz, Director of Marketing, Kenya Airways, Mr. Muriithi Ndegwa, CEO of KTB and on the right Mr. Steven Asiimwe, CEO of Tourism Uganda)

Sentiments expressed from the floor vis a vis regional fares and pricing of hotel accommodation for citizens and residents of the participating countries were noted and will be discussed at corporate senior management level before returning to the East African Tourism Platform with, where found necessary, fresh positions and responses to market concerns.

Stakeholder present were particularly pleased to hear from Kenya Airways that the new Terminal 1A at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport was now the exclusive home for KQ and the SkyTeam partners, providing the sort of transit and departure experience many have been waiting for and making Kenya Airways the airline of choice in the region.

At the showground in the meantime where the doors thrown wide open for the Kenyan public as Friday was the open day after the hosted buyers had two days to interact with exhibitors from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and the tourism boards of Zimbabwe, South Africa but also India and Indonesia, which came for the first time ever to participate in an East African tourism trade show.

Ugandan participants at the show reported doing brisk business as did the Rwandan delegation and a representative from the Zimbabwean stand, Marketing Manager Belinda Mutinhiri, was also satisfied with the market response her country had, not just from regional participants but also from the hosted buyers who showed interest to learn more about what Zimbabwe had to offer.

While no doubt challenges remain for Kenya and the region, in fact Africa overall as a result of the West African Ebola crisis, there was renewed resolve felt to be the main driver in finding solutions. Said one tourism board representative on condition of anonymity: ‘We have gone through the stages of proverbial withdrawal and are now done with moaning and regrets. It will be a long hard road to reach the 2011 level again but given the improvements in security in recent months things are looking up. Our main challenge remains the coast and to help them find markets. I personally hope this can also be a period of renewal and finding our strengths again what the Kenya coast has always provided for visitors but move beyond and reposition the product. I agree that we need more direct flights from abroad into Mombasa. Real estate developments, marinas, condominiums, gated estates and so forth have raised interest levels abroad and people want to buy a piece of the Kenya coast for themselves. Very important too is to make visits easy and reduce red tape and maybe we need a fresh look at our Visa regimes and other red tape. Infrastructure is a key component too, the bypass road to the South Coast, a new bridge across to the Northern mainland, better traffic flow from the airport to the resorts, a convention centre at the coast. We have our work cut out for ourselves but there is, I think, some renewed optimism that when we come back in a year for our 5th edition of MKTE, things will have changed’.

While the Kenya coast continues to suffer from weak demand, there has been growing evidence that the situation has bottomed out and the change in travel advisory by Britain for Nairobi has given rise to hope that, as long as the Kenyan government addresses security concerns vis a vis the transit of tourists through Mombasa and in particular across the Likoni Ferry and through the Likoni area, changes could be on the way too for the travel advisory on visits to the coast. There have also been strong suggestions that the next MKTE in 2015 should be held in Mombasa to show support to the coast and it remains to be seen how KTB will be able to reconcile these demands, perhaps using the annual Sarit Centre domestic travel trade exhibition as a key platform to promote in Nairobi while having MKTE, maybe in alternate years, move out of Nairobi and stage the expo in Mombasa.

Meanwhile did the author of ‘Guerillas of Tsavo’ Mr. James Willson, also make an appearance at the event.

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To commemorate the outbreak of the First World War in East Africa had KTB organized a media trip to the battlefield sites in Taita Taveta County including visits to the Commonwealth War Cemeteries in Voi, Maktau and Taveta, where the group was able to see the precise areas where the invading Germans faced off with the allied troops. In his book did James in unprecedented detail describe the where and how after painstaking research in the archives of the War Office in the UK and months of scouting the Taita – Taveta area in search of fortifications, battlements, bunkers, supply lines and encampments. A little museum at the Sarova Taita Hills Lodge, the ideal base to explore the ‘Battlefields East Africa’ ( / today shows maps and graphics as well as items like shrapnel, shell casings, spent cartridges, belt buckles and bottles which were collected from various sites and have now found a home to remind visitors that a long campaign was fought in Eastern Africa with the Germans under General Von Lettow-Vorbeck undefeated until the armistice. It is largely due to James’ personal interest and sustained effort that this history of 100 years ago has been unearthed and returned into the public domain and he will have his place in history for having become Kenya’s historian number one and top authority on the East African campaigns. His visit no doubt where a highlight for this correspondent to catch up again and learn about the second, and expanded edition of his book. No doubt, considering that tens of thousands of people do an annual pilgrimage to the beaches of Normandy to commemorate D-Day, or assemble in the killing fields of Verdun to remember the dead of a hundred years ago, Kenya too should be able to tap into that segment of travelers, war buffs and history buffs, descendants and family members, who might want to come out to Kenya for a change, instead of going to the Somne and Verdun, to see where Europe’s first major conflict in modern times spilled over into the colonies in Eastern and Central Africa.

Congratulations to the entire KTB team for a job well done in hosting 170 buyers from 36 countries and being such good brothers and sisters to the visitors from Uganda and Rwanda. See you at MKTE2105!

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